As we enter another college admission cycle, I want to take just a few minutes to urge high school students and their parents to consider wide-ranging options that fit their budget.
Too many students (and their parents) are taking on crushing debt to get a degree. We have all heard the numbers. They are staggering. Seventy percent of students graduate with significant debt. The average is now almost $40K per student. The total national debt of college students has risen to over $1.5 trillion. Why not go to a college that you can most easily afford?
Some say that going to a college with great name recognition is really, really important. Not only do you have bragging rights but you enter elite circles of people at the get-go.
I think it’s worthwhile to consider what Malcolm Gladwell stated in a TED Radio Hour interview, “Decisions Decisions Decisions” at about 11:40 minutes in:
“I am astonished by the way that Americans agonize about their college decisions. And the reason I find it so preposterous is that there is an assumption that the thing that makes an education good or bad is knowable beforehand. I would have thought that the ingredients of a good education are largely unknowable. The most important thing about my education at The University of Toronto was the fact that I met a guy named Tom Connell and I hung out with Tom and had a million fantastic conversations with Tom and emerged from university a vastly wiser and more interesting person. In a million years – how would I have known whether Tom was going to be there?”
I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Gladwell. Neither students nor parents can know who a college student is going to meet and how those interactions are going to change them. What we do know is that not only are there other students who will become lifelong friends and connections, but colleges hire faculty and staff who care about young people and want to help them succeed. That’s why every single person on the college’s payroll is a potential sounding board for the small and big life choices that college students inevitably make.
Gladwell goes on to say: “The reason it’s also pointless is because, at most universities, the question of whether you get a good education is up to you, not up to the university. So, I think a lot of these choice worries are just based on this preposterous notion of the consumer as a passive recipient of prepackaged experiences. And most of life is not prepackaged.”
Again, I couldn’t agree more. The students who are reaching out to faculty and staff and throwing themselves into the life of the college, going to social events and talks, volunteering for community service, joining student organizations, attending rallies and sports competitions, these students are getting the most out of their experience and setting themselves up for a successful life after college. In the end, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. Just like everything in life.
In fact, there are two things students can and must do to have the best possible time in college. The first is to get to know faculty. See my blog post on that here. The other is to invest time and energy into building their own community of advisers, which will be the topic of my next post.